May 2016

Understanding the Vocational Analysis at a Disability Hearing

W2 and Social Security cards, Vocational AnalysisMany individuals who file for disability mistakenly believe that because they are not capable of performing their past job, they must qualify for disability through the Social Security Administration (SSA). Unfortunately, this simply isn’t the case.

The Social Security disability program was not designed to provide injured or ill individuals with financial compensation because they became unable to perform the duties of the jobs they are used to. Instead, the benefits are intended to assist individuals who are unable to perform the required work at any job for which they are qualified, and therefore are unable to achieve substantial gainful activity. At the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) hearing, this is where a vocational expert comes in.

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New Evidence Requirements for Disability Claims

A blackboard with Social Security words, SS Claims evidenceIn April of 2015 a new regulation took effect that now requires Social Security claimants and Social Security lawyers in Chicago to provide all evidence that could either support or detract from a social security disability claim. Additionally, the “rules of conduct and standards of responsibility” for legal representatives have also been modified by the rule.

Prior to the new regulation, claimants were only required to submit evidence that was related to the disability in question and supported the claim that the disability existed. New language in the regulation, however, now states that all evidence that relates to whether or not the claimant is blind or disabled must be submitted. In other words, claimants are now responsible for providing the SSA with any and all information or evidence that is known by them and is relevant to their disability, even when that information could lessen their chances of successfully obtaining disability benefits.

 

Additionally, before the change, social security disability lawyers and other representatives were only required to obtain evidence and other documentation that the claimant “wants to submit” to support the claim with reasonable promptness, and to then submit the documentation to the Social Security Administration “as soon as practicable”. Under the modified rule, however, the duty of the attorney or representative has changed to include the submission of all documentation required to be submitted by the claimant that pertain to the disability claim.

 

Since the Notice of Final Rule was published in March of 2015, Social Security lawyers in Chicago and throughout the nation have raised numerous concerns over the use of the word “relates” in the rule. In addition to stating that the term is too vague, commenters have stated that there may be privacy concerns due to over-disclosure as well. In response, however, the SSA has said that the term should be interpreted as showing or establishing a connection between two things.

 

Unfortunately, many disability claimants are inexperienced with the use of specific language used by the SSA, which could cause misunderstandings that result in required information not being submitted in a timely manner. Such mishap can be detrimental to aSocial Security disability claim, since the failure to disclose the required evidence and information could be grounds for a claim being denied. On the other hand, many individuals may feel pushed to disclose more information than is required, which simply adds unnecessary processing in a system that is already severely backlogged.

Choosing the Right Time to Submit Your Social Security Application

Closeup of a person filling a form, SSAWhen an individual suffers from a mental or physical disability that is expected to last more than one year, it is vital that he or she submits an application for social security disability benefits as soon as possible. Waiting too long to file for disability can have a significant impact on the outcome of a case. Postponing the application can result in negative effects including:

  • Reduced Back Payments: The claims process can take several months, or even years to complete. Unfortunately, when a claim is approved the Social Security Administration (SSA) will only pay retroactive benefits for up to 12 months prior to the date the claim was filed. If a claimant became disabled in January of 2014, for example, but waited to file until July of 2016, his or her back pay would only be paid from July of 2015 on, and the benefits from the onset of the disability to July 2015 would simply be lost.
  • Availability of Current Medical Information: In many situations, the diagnosis of a disabling condition is made when the disability symptoms are in their early stages and a series of tests are conducted. During this period, there is often a wealth of current medical documentation available. If a claimant waits too long to file for disability, the SSA might determine that the most pertinent information is outdated. This could result in the SSA requiring that the individual undergo additional testing that could have been avoided. In many cases, this testing is performed by medical providers who are hired by the SSA and unfamiliar with the patient’s medical history.
  • Loss of Income/ Benefits During the Process: While some claims process very quickly, a large number of cases take an extensive amount of time to achieve approval. During that time, claimants are often left with no income/ reduced income, and without medical insurance to pay for the treatment that they need.
  • Loss of Work Credits: To obtain social security disability benefits, individuals must typically have a specified number of work credits. Most work credits expire within five years from the date the individual stopped working. Waiting to file a claim for social security disability can result in lost work credits that can cause a reduction in the amount of benefits payable, or can even disqualify an individual from receiving benefits altogether.